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February 03, 1995 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-02-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Tough Choices
On Russia

Should Western Jews still try to rebuild Jewish life
in Russia?

JAMES D. BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

T

he brutal war in Chechnya
and Russian President
Boris Yeltsin's declining po-
litical fortunes may reopen
an old debate in Jewish life:
Should Jewish groups focus their
efforts on removing as many
Jews as possible from the former
Soviet Union while the doors are
still open?
Or do Jews in Israel and the
United States have a moral oblig-
ation to help rebuild the institu-
tions of Jewish life in that part of
the world?
Those are extraordinarily dif-

Meanwhile, the Jewish reli-
gious reawakening in Russia con-
tinues unabated. Synagogues and
Jewish day schools flourish; Jew-
ish community centers are alive
with activity. This religious re-
birth has been encouraged by
Western Jews who have provid-
ed funds for building and restor-
ing Jewish facilities and supplied
rabbis and teachers for a com-
munity that had been devoid of
formal Jewish learning.
But this Jewish renaissance is
taking place in a society that is
plunging toward chaos and an-

A girl in St. Petersburg studies Hebrew alphabet cards provided by the JDC.

SINCE 11192

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76

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ficult questions as former Sovi-
et republics totter between
developing a free-market democ-
racy and the revival of an age-old
brand of ultranationalism, com-
plete with the usual underpin-
ning of anti-Semitism.
For Jews in the former Soviet
Union, these are frightening, but
exhilarating times. They are lead-
ing figures in transforming the
moribund Soviet economy. Jew-
ish enterprises, modeled after
Western businesses, are at the
forefront of the unsteady march
toward capitalism.
As Micah Naftalin, national di-
rector of the Union of Councils for
Soviet Jews, said, "A dispropor-
tionate number of the new lead-
ers in business and private
enterprise are Jews. That's not
surprising, and it's improved the
quality of life for many Jews. But
it also adds to the likelihood of
scapegoating as the situation in
Russia gets more complicated."

archy and among a populace that
has traditionally vented its frus-
trations by persecuting Jews.
The current war between Rus-
sia and Chechnya is just the lat-
est surfacing of seething ethnic
and national animosities that
have been reignited by the end of
authoritarian Soviet control. The
government of Boris Yeltsin was
precarious even before the
Chechen debacle. Now, many ex-
perts predict that it may be just
a matter of time before President
Yeltsin falls. Waiting in the wings
are ultra-nationalists who claim
to have easier answers for a pop-
ulace growing weary of the diffi-
culties of transforming their
nation into a free-market democ-
racy.
For Russian Jews and their
supporters in this country, the
choices in this situation are all
unattractive.
Evidence suggests that those
Jews who wanted to leave the for-

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